Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lisa Louise Cooke: Technology Empowers – #BYUFHGC

Lisa Louise Cooke spoke at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.“Technology can be a little frustrating at times,” said Lisa Louise Cooke. “The good news is that you’re empowered.” Lisa presented the Thursday keynote at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. She titled her presentation “The Future of Technology and Genealogy: Five Strategies You Need.”

Lisa is the founder of Genealogy Gems, a genealogy and family history multimedia company. She is the producer of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, the popular online genealogy audio show, downloaded over 1.5 million times, available at and iTunes. She produces The Family Tree Magazine Podcast, writes for the magazine, and is the author of four popular books.

Lisa had a podcast listener write in and tell her about having a PICNIC. She was having problems on her computer. Her son looked at what she was doing and told her she was having a PICNIC. She didn’t feel like she was having a picnic. At least she didn’t until she learned that PICNIC stands for Problem in Chair, Not In Computer. (Genealogy Gems, podcast 117.) However, you don’t have to stay at the PICNIC. Put yourself into situations where you can learn about technologies.

Put into a situation where she could learn, Lisa fell into her career of genealogy and technology education. In 2007 her daughters got together and decided that Mom needed an iPod. She didn’t have a music collection and movies were not available at the time, so there wasn’t much Lisa could do with it. Then she discovered podcasts. They were free! And she soon discovered that podcasts were being created by ordinary people. She could do it too. This was a way she could share what she was learning about genealogy. That desire has grown into a full-time career for herself, and, more recently, her husband.

A technique you can use to better utilize technology is to think in terms of the individual tasks you do when doing genealogy, rather than looking strictly for genealogy-specific technology.

“I think that Google Earth is one of the most powerful genealogy apps around and it isn’t even a genealogy app,” she said. Lisa showed a Google Earth example along with several other websites and technologies.

Lisa said that genealogists have been slow to utilize video. “We need to catch up.” We can upload our stories and our home movies to YouTube. Just keep clips to ten minutes or less. People have short attention spans. We can also search YouTube. Don’t just search for your ancestors by name. Search for places, events, and other topics associated with your ancestors.

Searching YouTube helped a genealogist discover a movie clip of her grandmother.One of Lisa’s podcast listeners, Laurie Burgess, heard Lisa’s recommendations to utilize YouTube and thought, “Lisa, you’ve lost it. I will never find my ancestors on YouTube.” One day Laurie decided to give it a try. Her grandmother had been royalty in the 1946 Rose Parade. Laurie knew the description of the float upon which her grandmother rode. So, she searched YouTube for “Rose Parade 1946.” She found someone had uploaded an amateur video of part of the parade. As she watched, a float matching the description rolled by. There, riding on the back of the float, was her grandmother! Laurie contacted the video’s contributor and found he had another movie clip he had not uploading. The clip showed her grandmother accepting the royalty trophy.

Lisa closed her presentation with counsel that we not let technology stop us from listening to our ancestors. She shared a personal story of serendipity that I feel is too private for me to share here. There came a moment in her life where a strong impression led to a long-sought reconciliation, healing past and present family.

We were already in tears when Lisa shared a slide show with musical accompaniment, “The Family Tree," by Venice.” Recommended listening.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kehrer Talks FamilySearch Transformations – #BYUFHGC

Robert Kehrer talks at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy“I’m here to talk about transformation,” said Robert Kehrer. In his three careers, Robert Kehrer has had a front-row seat to three exciting transformations. Robert Kehrer, senior product manager at FamilySearch, gave the Wednesday keynote at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. His presentation was titled “FamilySearch: Past, Present & Future.”

Robert’s first career was as a molecular geneticist. It was at an exciting time when sequencing the human genome was underway. Genetics have since transformed the landscape, including that of genealogy. He next went to Apple at a time when they were down trodden and beleaguered. Since that time Apple has transformed the laptop, smart phone, tablet, music industries and more.

“It was fun to have a front row seat in the beginning of that transformation,” Robert said.

“I came to FamilySearch eight years ago,” he said. “I have witnessed a fundamental change.” FamilySearch had decent product offerings back then, but there were limitations and problems. It was not genealogically sound as it was not source-centric, he said. The offerings weren’t great.

“Today it is fundamentally different,” he said. And one sign of the transformation is the increase in visitors to Traffic has increased 1,035%.

Robert highlighted past and future transformations at FamilySearch in several areas:

  • Researchers need a whole lot more records.
  • Users want and need to upload artifacts (photos, scanned documents, stories, etc.).
  • They need to be able to use the site on mobile devices, especially for indexing.
  • Researchers need more accurate and full featured record searching.
  • Family Tree must be genealogically sound.
  • FamilySearch can’t do it all themselves; they need partners.

One transformation at FamilySearch has been the availability of records. In January 2012 had 1,033 record collections; today, it has 2,019. In January 2012 it had records from 72 countries; today, it is 91. About 2010 it had 750 million indexed names; today it has 5.2 billion. Those names come from 3.04 billion indexed records. has 1.02 billion document images. The FamilySearch catalog contains 1.6 million titles. FamilySearch’s microfilm collections consists of 2.9 million rolls. FamilySearch estimates there are 975 million names in its compiled genealogies and its scanned book collection now totals 220,000 books.

I was thrilled when he showed the Ancestry Insider’s graph of microfilm growth. (For the original, see “Vault Vednesday: Food, Film, and Family History Centers.”)

Robert Kehrer displays the Ancestry Insider's graph of FamilySearch microfilm growth.

FamilySearch has cameras all across the world capturing records digitally, as indicated by a color-coded map of the world. Darker means more cameras.

Robert Kehrer displays a map of FamilySearch cameras across the world.

The record types digitized by FamilySearch in 2014 were predominantly those with the most genealogical value. Civil and church vital records and census records accounted for 61% of the records. Because of their focus on digitizing the records of greatest value, FamilySearch really has the deepest set of genealogically rich and valuable records.

Robert Kehrer displays a chart of record types digitized by FamilySearch in 2014.
(Click to enlarge the chart of record types and percentages.)

FamilySearch has a number of record related goals for 2015. They plan to digitize and index more records with affiliates. They wish to digitize key vault records, concentrating on those with the best value from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. They wish to create fielded indexes of names, dates, places, and relationships in family histories and obituaries. Their goal is to ramp up non-English indexing, especially in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, and German. They are trying to increase to 300 cameras capturing records, with major growth targeted for Europe, Latin America, and Africa. The goal is to digitize over 150 million images this year.

Another transformation at FamilySearch has been the Memories section of The Memories section allows users to save photos, stories, audio, and scanned documents. It was first released back in 2013. Since then users have uploaded over 13 million artifacts.

Example of a person on the People pageThe People page now  defaults to showing artifacts submitted both by yourself and others, “making this a page of discovery.” Behind each person’s portrait are thumbnails indicating there is more to see beyond this page. FamilySearch displays the lifespan underneath the person’s name. Further down is a link to view your relationship with the person.

“We’re redoing some of the pages and we’re really excited about it,” Robert said. The artifact page displays in grid view today. In the future, there will be a list view that looks like iTunes.

Robert said when he first came to FamilySearch he realized something. They had two contributor doors through which you could walk through: indexing or genealogical researcher. Only about 3% of the public have the desire to be a great researcher and indexing was the only other alternative. Today, FamilySearch has a lot of other contribution channels. Robert quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks from the June 1989 Ensign article titled “Family History: ‘In Wisdom and Order.’ ” Elder Oaks said, “Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something.” Today there are lots of ways for people to get engaged. You can grab an iPhone and record an interview or photograph a document. You can use the source attachment tool without being an expert genealogist. FamilySearch is seeing an increased participation in family history, Robert said.

Indexing has gone through transformations and is set to undergo more.

Volunteers have indexed a total of 1.34 billion records. The total for 2015 is 68.6 million. The total number of contributors is 213,184. Arbitration is not keeping up with indexing. There are a total of 15.8 million records awaiting arbitration. There are currently 450 indexing projects underway.

The current indexing system requires a Java download and is not compatible with mobile devices. FamilySearch will roll out a new indexing system over the next several months that runs as a web app in most browsers on most devices. No download is required. I’ve reviewed many of the expected features previously. (See “#RootsTech – New FamilySearch Indexing Program.”) Among other things, Robert briefly mentioned better collaboration, better reporting, and a messaging system.

An examination of the numbers shows a disparity between the number of records digitized and the number of records published. Indexing is not keeping up with acquisition. A lot is going on behind the scenes to address this. One approach is to automate indexing, or robo-keying as some call it at FamilySearch. They have a lot of smart people working on this. Robert showed an example of an obituary color coded to show what a computer had identified as people, places, dates, and relationships.

An obituary color-coded by robo-keying software

This breakthrough is being used today to help index the “United States, GenealogyBank Obituaries” collection. (FamilySearch recently announced they were adding an astonishing 47 million records to the existing 16 million records. I wondered if automation was being used to progress so quickly.)

Automated indexing produces some errors. For example, Billie Jean is not Michael Jackson’s sibling. The record detail page indicates automatically indexed records and allows users to specify corrections so that FamilySearch can better tune the system.

FamilySearch robo-keying misindexed Michael Jackson's obituary.

Robert announced “Fuel the Find,” a FamilySearch worldwide indexing event. It is a weeklong event this year, 7-14 August. The goal is to have 100,000 volunteers index at least one batch during the week. To learn more, visit

FamilySearch has made great transformations in its search capabilities.

Robert gave a tour of the historical record search capabilities. I’ve written about much of it in the past. (See, for example, “Searching for Sources at FamilySearch at #NGS2015GEN (Part 1)” and part 2. There’s probably more I could write about the country specific search pages, but I will save that for another day.

FamilySearch’s hinting system is really good. About 98% of the hints are correct and 65-70% of records about a known person are surfaced through hinting. (Robert calls this latter measurement hinting recall.) Each day a quarter-million hints are added to the tree.

Robert showed the new image viewer. It displays a grid below the image showing the persons and some of the information indexed from that image. He said that the deficiencies exhibited by the new image viewer, such as lack of image-to-image navigation, are coming in the next month or two. He felt the power of the page was worth releasing even though all the features were not yet present. Click “Open in a new window” to revert to the old image viewer. To close the viewer and return to the record details, click the X in the upper-right corner or click somewhere off the image. You can also go to the record detail page of someone else on that image by clicking their name in the list at the bottom and clicking the record icon to the left of their name. This feature elicited applause from the audience.

At this point, Robert was overtime and whipping through his presentation. He alluded to coming features that will allow users to click an icon next to a film number in the catalog and see the images from that microfilm! That drew even greater applause. “We think that what we’re going to deliver will be more functional than cranking a microfilm reel,” he said.


The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy continues through Friday and you can still register, get the entire syllabus on flash drive, and attend the remainder of the conference.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We are Binding Families in Love and Service – #BYUFHGC

The opening keynote of the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy was decidedly orientated to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It might help others understand why the Church sponsors FamilySearch, but if that is of no interest to you, feel free to skip this article.

Elder Gerald N. Lund, emeritus member of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy“The doctrine of turning hearts of fathers and children, I believe, is about creating eternal families whose hearts are bound together in love and service to each other,” said Elder Gerald N. Lund. “The keywords for me are love and service.” Elder Lund presented the opening keynote at the 2015 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. He titled his presentation “They Are Not Dead, Only Living Somewhere Else.”

Elder Lund is an emeritus member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also the author of more than 25 books of both fiction and nonfiction. He is best known for his historical novels, including two well–known series, The Work and the Glory and The Kingdom and the Crown.

Elder Lund told us that he was not a genealogist. He said he felt like the burro enrolled in the Kentucky Derby. Someone observed to his owner, “You know he has no chance against all those thoroughbreds?”

“Oh, I know that. He knows it too. He just likes to lather up with the best.”

Elder Lund said that while he’s not done a lot of family history, he’s seen a lot of history and has a lot of family. He has seven children, 29 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren. Counting spouses, his family consists of 63 people. And writing his historical fiction books, he has studied a lot of history.

While we usually think about our service to our ancestors—through temple work on their behalf—we don’t always think about their service to us. Elder Lund quoted President Joseph F. Smith, who said,

Surely those who have passed beyond, can see more clearly through the veil back here to us than it is possible for us to see to them.…I believe we move and have our being in the presence of…heavenly beings.…We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties that we can not break, that we cannot dissolve or free ourselves from.

If this is the case with us in our finite condition, surrounded by our mortal weaknesses, short-sightedness, lack of inspiration and wisdom from time to time, how much more certain it is and reasonable and consistent to believe that those who have been faithful, who have gone beyond…can see us better than we can see them; that they know us better than we know them.

I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; they can comprehend better than ever before, the weaknesses that are liable to mislead us into dark and forbidden paths. They see the temptations and the evils that beset us in life and the proneness of mortal beings to yield to temptation and to wrong doing; hence their solicitude for us and their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.1

“Isn’t that a wonderful concept of service?” asked Elder Lund.

He quoted again from President Smith:

We are told by the Prophet Joseph Smith, that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.” Hence, when messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred, friends, and fellow beings.…Our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful,…may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh.2

These are angels providing service to the living, Elder Lund said.

At the conclusion of his presentation, Elder Lund reiterated his definition of turning hearts. We are binding families together with love and service so that they can be together forever.


     1.  Joseph F. Smith, Eighty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (April 1916): 2-3; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 28 July 2015), image 1637. Ellipses mark passages that I’ve left, which may not match exactly the ones excluded by Elder Lund.
     2.  Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1986), 435-6. Similarly,drop outs may not match exactly those of Elder Lund.

Incremental Improvement of the New Website

The Ancestry Insider at Niagra Falls
Software used to be developed using a waterfall process.

Software is now developed iteratively and incrementally.
Whirlpool image: Wikipedia launched its new website design in an unfinished state. I suppose this was a calculated move. Gone are the days of “waterfall model” development where the entire website is conceived before coding begins and released only when entirely finished. Today, software is developed using iterative and incremental development. This is why you regularly see websites and features not quite finished. Examples are Ancestry’s “new search,” the old incarnation of Ancestry Member Trees, the Ancestry mobile app, the New FamilySearch (NFS) Tree, FamilySearch RecordSearch, and more recently, the AncestryDNA website, the Ancestry Findagrave app, FamilySearch Family Tree, FamilySearch historical records search, FamilySearch mobile apps, and, now, the New Ancestry website.

Users overtly hate and unperceptively love iterative development. Iterative development allows a company to give you that long requested Xyzzy widget as soon as it is developed enough that it gives you value, not when it is flawless. Users use it and react. “Here’s what I like; here’s what I don’t like.” If it is valuable enough, they continue using it despite its flaws. It gets better over time. It gets improvements. It gets polished. But It also moves around, changes color, and morphs in sometimes unexpected ways. That confuses users, makes it difficult to find, and forces teachers, like me, to constantly redo our slides.

But we love—or at least value and hate—these unfinished websites or features enough to continue to use them while simultaneously complaining.

Well, that is not always true for every user in every case.

Such is the New Ancestry Website. When I announced its release in June 2015, several readers saw fit to comment. While there were a few “just don’t like it” comments, I was proud of y’all. There were lots of actionable observations, explicit items you didn’t like, like tree background color, printing family group reports, display of age on timeline, thumbnails and links to media, web links, and problems with comments.

Almost immediately after releasing the new Ancestry website, Ancestry said they were “still working on a few final missing features, as well as making continued improvements to new features based on your feedback.” Sound like incremental development? In that post they listed features and fixes they were working on. As they’ve finished the bulleted items, they have posted completion status. See “New Ancestry: Feature Update” on the Ancestry blog.

Armed with your specific comments, Ancestry has fixed many of the problems you posted here. See “The New Ancestry: July 15th Feature Update” and “The New Ancestry: July 22nd Feature Update” on the Ancestry blog.

Get specific feedback to Ancestry. They will aggregate your opinions and act accordingly, incrementally, and iteratively. That is the nature of incremental development processes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

BYU Conference (#BYUFHGC) Starts Tomorrow

BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyThe BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy runs this week, 28 to 31 July 2015 and you can signup clear to the last day of the conference, online, by phone, or in person.

I’ve already mentioned two conference activities: Cokeville Miracle and the BYU Family History Library open house. Let me mention two more.

EZ Photo Scan is offering free photo scanning at their booth. They have a high speed scanner (80 a minute!). Bring a large stack of photos. I get nervous about damaging prints, so I would only trust photos in good shape and would prearrange them in stacks of the same size. They hope to scan 30,000 photographs during the conference. The announcement doesn’t mention if they will be supplying memory sticks/thumb drives, so I’d bring my own, just in case.

You can also sign up for the ICAPGEN luncheon on Friday. This is a networking luncheon for those who want to learn more from or talk with Accredited Genealogists, but anyone can go. Lunch will be held on the Conference Center patio and feature chuck wagon food: BBQ Chicken, baked beans, Dutch oven potatoes, house rolls, coleslaw, vegetables, and BYU Creamery ice cream dessert, all for $20.00.

As always, I will be attending lectures given by and FamilySearch so that I can give you the latest news on their products. FamilySearch is giving an entire track on Tuesday. I will be reporting on several of those classes.

Aaron Orr, a product manager at, is presenting “Using AncestryDNA to Further Your Research” at 1:30 on Thursday. I asked Aaron why someone would want to attend his class. “If you’re wondering how a teaspoon of saliva can help you break through brick walls, then this class if for you. ,” Aaron said. “I’ll walk you through the basics of genetic inheritance and how you can use your AncestryDNA results to discover mysteries once lost by time.”

Lisa Elzey is an family historian and researcher for the television show, Who Do You Think You Are. She is presenting “How the Records Tell the Story” at 4:00 that same day. Of her class, she said “Discovering the detail within records will help you piece together your family history narrative much like we do for Who Do You Think You Are. Even with the records you already have found, it's about looking at them in a new light to illuminate a richer story.”

See you at the conference!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Serendipity from a Strange Phone Number

Jen W., writer of Peculiar and Co.A coworker alerted me to a blog article about an adoptee’s quest to find her birth mother. In one sense, these discoveries are becoming less and less serendipitous as DNA databases get larger and larger. This particular story is well written and worth the read.

Jen W. had a long-time dream of finding her birth mother, sometimes whimsically googling the question, “Who is my biological mother?” One day she “suddenly became overcome with the thought of having [her] DNA tested.” However money was tight and needed elsewhere. A DNA test would have to wait. Then one day, something happened to change that.

I received a phone call from a strange number. Usually I don’t answer calls from numbers that I don’t recognize, but this time I decided to live large.  After picking up the phone, I learned that my mother-in-law had been talking to one of her friends about my desire to have a DNA test done.  This friend just ‘happened’ to have an extra DNA test kit lying around her house.

Read Jen’s story in her own words, “In the Face of Another,” on her blog, Peculiar and Co.

FamilySearch Cameo in Salt Lake City Parade

The big parade in Salt Lake City is the “Days of 47” parade on the 24th of July each year. It commemorates the arrival of Mormon pioneers in 1847. FamilySearch got a brief cameo. One float with a family history theme had a sign sporting the FamilySearch logo hanging from a tree (almost hidden on the left in the photo below).

Family history themed float in a Salt Lake City parade float displaying the FamilySearch logo

The float included a bubble making machine. The bubbles were too much of a temptation for one little girl. Mom had to run out and grab her.

Family history themed float in a Salt Lake City parade float

FamilySearch had another couple of tie-ins to the parade this year. The parade passed in from of FamilySearch headquarters, which occupies several floors of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. And FamilySearch Records Division director, Rod DeGiulio, was briefly interviewed late last night on a local television station as he camped out on the parade route, saving a place for his grandchildren. Way to go, grandpa!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

AncestryHealth and DNA has launched a new service, AncestryHealth.Last week publicly released its AncestryHealth website, According to Ancestry, “AncestryHealth’s first offering is a free service, currently in beta, that gives consumers the ability to compile their family health history information with the help of their Ancestry family tree.” Since many health issues run in families, tracing health conditions can help individuals and health care workers take steps to minimize risks. Saving health information in a tree records the information for sharing with health care workers and future generations.

With the launch of AncestryHealth, Ancestry has also added a chief health officer to its executive team. Cathy A. Petti, MD, will be the first person to occupy that position.

“This new service leverages expert research and delivers customized information to consumers about the risks and prevention measures to help empower them to make healthy lifestyle choices,” said Tim Sullivan, Ancestry CEO. “Combined with the breadth and scale of Ancestry data, we expect AncestryHealth to be a key piece of the puzzle as we look to understand how health is passed down through generations, and we are excited to have Dr. Petti lead this effort."

It looks like Petti will report to Dr. Ken Chahine, executive vice president and general manager of AncestryDNA and AncestryHealth. This could signal a move by Ancestry into health-oriented DNA testing.

“We set out to create health offerings for our community that integrate with, and leverage the successes of Ancestry and AncestryDNA,” said Chahine. In the AncestryHealth press release, Ancestry positioned itself as both “the leader in family history and consumer genetics.” (Italics added.) According to Ancestry, Petti will work alongside genomic teams and will lead regulatory affairs.

Regulations have stymied the health-related DNA offerings of competitor, 23andMe. Back in November 2013 the FDA informed 23andMe that they hadn’t complied with all the regulations necessary to market their DNA for providing health reports on genetic diseases, conditions, and predispositions. 23andMe subsequently ceased providing health-related DNA reports. 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki explained that “this is new territory for both 23andMe and the FDA. This makes the regulatory process with the FDA important because the work we are doing with the agency will help lay the groundwork for what other companies in this new industry do in the future.”

In February of this year the FDA granted 23andMe authorization to market its test for Bloom Syndrome carrier status. (See the 23andMe press release.) Perhaps Ancestry has decided, as Wojcicki predicted, to follow the course charted and begin their own efforts to satisfy government regulations so that it can offer health-oriented DNA tests.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

AncestryDNA Exceeds Million Mark

AncestryDNA infographic. Click to see the complete graphic.
Click to see the complete infographic.

Last week made two big announcements. The size of their DNA database has exceeded 1 million samples. And they have launched a new website called AncestryHealth.

“We just hit a huge milestone, and we are excited to celebrate!” said Ancestry spokesperson, Anna Swayne. “In just three short years AncestryDNA has genetically tested one million people to help them discover more about themselves and their family story.” The database size has more than doubled in the last year.

As the size of their database grows, they are starting to be able to make some interesting observations. In a group of 5,000 people you will likely find a close relative. (I think that means 4th cousin or closer.) Using that fact, Ancestry has put together an interesting infographic.

  • On any given day, 39 of your relatives will pass through the Los Angeles LAX airport.
  • Sixteen of your relatives will be in the stadium of a sold out home game of the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Ten of your relatives visit Disney World each day.
  • Six of your relatives finished the Boston Marathon. (I know one of my six.)
  • Two of your relatives visited the Statue of Liberty today.

Wait for my Friday article for a particularly touching AncestryDNA story.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

FamilySearch Building in Lehi

KSL 5 broadcast this image of the proposed FamilySearch buildings.FamilySearch is building in Lehi, Utah. Lehi sits between Salt Lake City and Provo. A Salt Lake TV station, KSL 5, broke the news last week. FamilySearch owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, issued the following statement:

The property at Thanksgiving Point was purchased by the Church with a small portion donated by the Ashton family. Plans for the site have been submitted to the City of Lehi, as required, and meet all zoning and land use requirements. The proposed site plan allows the Church to construct a two-building campus (four stories each) on the property. One will be used as a key facility of FamilySearch International, the Church's family history subsidiary. Included in this building will be a FamilySearch… Discovery Center, which provides a highly interactive experience for the public to explore their family history. The other would be initially used as commercial office property and later as possible expansion space for FamilySearch. The landscaping and architecture of the buildings has been designed to complement the surrounding golf course, residential properties and other Thanksgiving Point venues.

According to documents submitted to the Lehi City Planning Commission, the buildings will sit on 12 acres on Garden Drive near Desert Forest Lane. The land is currently a golf driving range located between the Lehi Front Runner mass transit station and a golf course clubhouse. Each building contains approximately 120,000 square feet.

The site is about 5 minutes from the new Utah headquarters under construction for at 1300 West Traverse Parkway, just west of the new Xactware building.

Map showing closeness of and FamilySearch buildings

Ancestry announced their new headquarters back on 28 January 2015. Two buildings with a common lobby will sit on a 10.5 acre lot, along with three parking structures.

Architect's rendering of headquarters buildings

Monday, July 13, 2015

Monday Mailbox: On the Road

The Ancestry Insider's Monday Mailbox

Dear Ancestry Insider,

My Price line is a mess. A lot of the reason is the SOURCE created records.

But not really ...  

It seemed to instead be just a jumble of three or four lines into one ... with little evidence of why they added these records.

Can you explain this?

I assume, faced with so many lines without ANY sources attached, this was an attempt to add some with a few computer keystrokes.

I fear the computer guys rule, and hope the new director sees that.

I was wondering if you have a better understanding of this mess ...

THANKS for your explanations,

Dear Kath,

I’m afraid I can’t speak to your particular mess, but I can speak generally.

I believe a little of the combined lines issue is a hold-over from Ancestral File, where it appeared to me that computer algorithms were used aggressively to combine four-generation submissions into one, single tree. My experience was that Ancestral File was, at least initially, pretty messy. Over the years, I think the most egregious problems were corrected. But I think problems still abound and Ancestral File was used as one basis for the New FamilySearch tree (NFS).

I understand that when Ancestral File was combined with other sources to create NFS, the computer guys were extremely conservative, combining persons only when information was exactly the same. I have been told that the messiness in FamilySearch Family Tree is a result of inappropriate combines made by people.

NFS became the FamilySearch Family Tree, so it contains problems from, but also corrections to, Ancestral File and NFS. Family Tree also contains the sources that people added to NFS. These are titled “Legacy NFS Source.” These were not created by computer guys, although they contain some computer generated gibberish: “Migrated from user-supplied source citation: urn:familysearch:source:2138860571.”

I can’t speak to our new director’s propensity to recognize and correct the issues associated with your messy Price line. At his first RootsTech conference Dennis Brimhall adapted an old joke, telling us that “a few weeks ago I couldn’t spell genealogist and now I are one.” I understand that since then Dennis has taken genealogy classes from the BYU Idaho family history degree program and has gained an appreciation for some of the challenges of post-chasm genealogy.

My theory is that by the time a directory understands the challenges of post-chasm genealogy, they move on and we start a new cycle. My theory could be completely wrong. It doesn’t come from insider knowledge. It comes from being an outsider watching FamilySearch make similar mistakes over and over for decades.

Years ago, contributors made paper submissions to FamilySearch (and its predecessors):

  • Sources contributors provided in paper submissions to the IGI were not keyed into the computer.
  • Sources in paper submissions to the Ancestral File were not keyed into the computer.

Later, contributors made GEDCOM submissions:

  • Sources in GEDCOM (TempleReady) submissions to the IGI were stripped out before publication.
  • Sources in GEDCOM submissions to the Ancestral File were stripped out before publication.

Now there is today.

  • FamilySearch doesn’t consistently have indexers key in source information from genealogy records.
  • FamilySearch doesn’t provide coverage tables showing what record volumes are contained in an online record collection. Indeed, since source information is not consistently keyed, they can’t provide them.
  • Contributors to Pedigree Resource File agreed to have their names and contact information revealed. FamilySearch used to do it. Today, it doesn’t.
  • IGI (TempleReady) submitters could specify whether or not their names and contact information was revealed. Today, FamilySearch ignores their election.
  • FamilySearch doesn’t capture adequate source documentation from eye witnesses.
  • FamilySearch doesn’t allow users to differentiate between manuscript and published sources in their source citations.

The new FamilySearch director, Steve Rockwood, is an internal choice. Perhaps he’s more familiar with post-chasm genealogy.

---The Ancestry Insider

Dear Readers,

You may recall that I write this column independent of my employer, FamilySearch. That necessitates writing entirely on my own time. I further restrict my writing to weekends so as to not intrude on other activities in my life.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend a little time with distant relatives and availed myself entirely in that pursuit. That’s good news for you, as I will not invade your time further this week.

I look forward to corresponding with you again next week.

---The Ancestry Insider

Monday Mailbox: Access to FamilySearch

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

So, does have access to the information I contribute to, like photos, stories, and FamilySearch Family Tree data?

I hope that in the negotiations between FamilySearch and Ancestry that Dennis Brimhall did not allow Ancestry access to FamilySearch Memories!!  This is a big deal to me.

Does it make a difference if I have an LDS account with Ancestry?


Dear Larry,

I’ve noticed that My Heritage has FamilySearch Family Tree on I’ve not seen it on, but, apparently, giving another vendor a copy of Family Tree is not out of the question.

To the best of my knowledge, I don’t recall FamilySearch giving away the totality of FamilySearch Memories (the photos, stories, documents, and so forth attached to Family Tree) to other vendors. However, FamilySearch allows any third party app to access Memories attached to a person in the Tree. (See instructions to developers from the FamilySearch website.) I suppose if Ancestry wanted to, it could add the ability for Ancestry users to copy FamilySearch Memories from Family Tree to an Ancestry Member Tree.

You mentioned Dennis Brimhall. Don Anderson’s name is often mentioned in connection with the Ancestry agreement. At last year’s RootsTech, Don Anderson is the one who announced the Ancestry agreement to bloggers and members of the media. (See “LDS Church Members Will Get Free Access to More Family History Records” in the Deseret News.) He was introduced as senior vice president of patron and partner services. Don Anderson’s LinkedIn page indicates he left FamilySearch last month after almost 13 years with the company.

Thanks for the questions,
---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Deed Example of a Darned Record

An important aspect of genealogy is the evaluation of evidence. Here’s an example for you to noodle on.

Pictured below is portions of a deed published by FamilySearch with title citation:

Citation: "Idaho, Gem County Records, 1877-1962," images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 3 July 2015), Land and property records > Deed record, vol 2, 1866-1901 > image 2 of 598; Gem County Clerk and Recorder's Office, Emmett.

What aspects of this record would lead you to believe that it is reliable? What aspects of this record would lead you to believe it is perhaps, not the best of evidence. How would you proceed? (If this copy is too small, click to see it on the FamilySearch website.)

Port of a Gem County, Idaho deed
Port of a Gem County, Idaho deed
Port of a Gem County, Idaho deed

Post a comment for all to see. (I would rather you not reply by email.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

BYU Family History Conference Opportunities (#BYUFHGC)

BYU Conference on Family History and GenealogyBYU Conferences and Workshops has announced two events associated with the upcoming BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference. The general public is invited to the first.

One keynote this year is by filmmaker T.C. Christensen who will be speaking about his new movie, Cokeville Miracle. If you wish to see the movie prior to listening to his keynote, the BYU Varsity Theater will show the movie Thursday evening, 30 July. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased on the conference registration page. Click “Register Now” and add the “Cokeville Miracle” option to your cart.

The BYU Family History Library is holding an open house on Wednesday evening, 29 July, from 6 to 8 pm, for conference participants. The open house gives attendees an opportunity to learn about the library. The library will have four stations with scanners, microfilms, reference books, and databases. The stations will be staffed by missionaries, student assistants, and staff to teach and help attendees with their family history. There will be drawings for prizes, including large format fan charts and personal journals. Of course, attendees can also work on their own family history! There are plenty of computers available.

View an online campus map to locate the Varsity Theater in the Wilkinson Student Center and the Harold B. Lee Library (which houses the Family History Library).

The last I heard, there are still seats for the conference. The conference offers more than 160 classes and runs the week of 28 to 31 July 2015. Visit for more information.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

FamilySearch Announces New President

Steve Rockwood, upcoming FamilySearch president and CEOFamilySearch announced last week that Steve Rockwood will replace current president, Dennis C. Brimhall. Rockwood is currently director of the FamilySearch international division. He will assume the presidency on 1 October 2015.

“As president and CEO, Steve will bring a rich combination of management skills, customer focus, business acumen, and a can-do spirit that will build on the vision and work of Dennis Brimhall,” said Elder Allan F. Packer, Chairman of the Board.

Rockwood has built two companies from the ground up, culminating in acquisition by larger companies. His companies have worked with brands such as as MasterCard International, AT&T, Disney, Office Depot, and Citibank among others.

As the director of the International Division, Rockwood introduced the My Family booklet to FamilySearch employees back in 2013. (See “FamilySearch Annual Business Meeting.”) The booklet helps members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints start doing family history. It is utilized in areas throughout the world, particularly where computers are not readily available. (See “Announcing the My Family: Stories That Bring Us Together Booklet.”) The booklet is available in 32 languages for purchase or free download from the Church store. The booklet can also be filled out online.

Brimhall has served since January 2012. According to his biography on the RootsTech website, Brimhall will turn 67 in the days leading up to his retirement.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Passing of Boyd K. Packer, Long Time Friend of Family History

President Boyd K. Packer with wife, Donna, son, Allan, and daughter-in-law, Terri
President Boyd K. Packer, his wife Donna and their son Elder Allan F. Packer
of the Seventy and his wife Terri participated in the cornerstone and dedication
of the Brigham City Utah Temple. © 2012 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights

Last Friday, Boyd K. Packer, passed away at the age of 90.

“President Packer was a friend to family history research for many years,” said David Rencher, FamilySearch CGO. “It was my pleasure to assist the Packers when I served at the British Reference Desk in the Family History Library.” At the time of his passing, President Packer was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rencher said “President Packer and his wife Donna Smith Packer worked tirelessly on researching the Packer family in England. Their work culminated in the book On Footings from the Past: the Packers in England.1

President Packer served on the Church’s Temple and Family History Executive Council for many years. In 1975, he announced the creation of the Church’s genealogy department, formally integrating the Genealogical Society of Utah.2

President Packer made many trips to England, said Rencher. He served on the board of directors of the Society of Genealogists, London. On one of these trips he was impressed by the Federation of Family History Societies and noticed how they incorporated more than just genealogical details. Upon returning to Salt Lake City, he suggested that the then Genealogical Department change its name to the more inclusive Family History Department. The change was immediately embraced and the department has been known by that name ever since. FamilySearch might have a different name if it hadn’t been for the change.

The Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City was renamed the Family History Library and branch libraries were renamed to family history centers.3

When statistics in 1975 indicated that only 7.5% of Church members had participated in the four-generation program, he pushed for simplifications.4 I know that at one point the Church’s submission format instructions occupied an entire book. It contained arcane requirements such as precise rules on how place names had to be abbreviated to fit in the small spaces on family group sheets and pedigree charts. In 1980 he wrote a book which included a simple way for anyone to get started doing family history.

If you don’t know where to start, start with yourself…

Get a cardboard box. … Put it … in the way … anywhere where it cannot go unnoticed. Then, over a period of a few weeks, collect and put into the box every record of your life, such as your birth certificate, … anything that is written, or registered, or recorded that testifies that you are alive and what you have done.5

President Packer was a driving force behind microfilming new records. In 1977 he started an effort to acquire records of Native Americans. He requested that the Genealogical Society expand into Africa. He visited Jerusalem in 1977 and began talks for the acquisition of records there.6

President Packer’s family also has a great love for genealogy. His son, Elder Allan F. Packer, is the chairman of the board of FamilySearch International. As mentioned, his wife Donna wrote the Packer family history book. Even at her advanced age, I see her nearly every year at the BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy. And Donna is accompanied each year by Allan’s wife, Terri.

The funeral will be this Friday, 10 July 2015, 11:00 a.m. MDT in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. If past practice is followed, the funeral will be broadcast live. See the for more information. Expressions of sympathy can be posted on President Packer’s Facebook page or emailed to

President Packer, we will miss you. God bless and comfort your family until we are all reunited at the resurrection.


     1. See Donna Smith Packer, On Footings from the Past: the Packers in England (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1988); online archive, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 July 2015). The FamilySearch family history center in Brigham City, Utah contains a history that President Packer wrote about his parents. See “’The Best Team,’ the Life Story of Ira Wight Packer and Emma Jensen Packer,” part of a compilation, “Packer Family Histories,” (bound manuscript, n.d., Brigham City Utah FamilySearch Center); online archive, FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 July 2015).
     2. James B. Allen, Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile Mehr, Hearts Turned to the Fathers, a special issue of BYU Studies 34 (1994-95), 266.; online archives, BYU Studies Quarterly ( : accessed 4 July 2015), 266.
     3. “Ancestral Study Clarified,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), 11 August 1987, p. B1, col. 5; archived online, Google News ( : accessed 5 July 2015).
     4. Allen, Hearts Turned to the Fathers, 272.
     5. Boyd K. Packer, “Your Family History: Getting Started,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( : accessed 4 July 2015); excerpted from The Holy Temple (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1980).
     6. Allen, Hearts Turned to the Fathers, 247, 250-51.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Free Access to Database of Early New England Immigrants

"Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers" illustration from p. 83 of _British Enterprise beyond the Seas_ by J. H. FyfeThe New England Historic Genealogy Society (NEHGS) is offering free access to its “Great Migration” databases starting last Wednesday and continuing through next Wednesday, 8 July 2015. Access requires free registration. The goal of the Great Migration Project is to “compile comprehensive genealogical and biographical accounts of every person who settled in New England between 1620 and 1640. Between these years about twenty thousand English men, women, and children crossed the Atlantic to settle New England.” The databases currently cover 1620-1635.

The databases are taken from a series of books compiled by Robert Charles Anderson. NEHGS just announced the latest, Great Migration Directory: Immigrants to New England.

To access the Great Migration databases, visit

Thursday, July 2, 2015 News Ketchup, 2 July 2015

Ancestry Insider KetchupI’m way behind on articles. Time to ketchup…

Bullet Ancestry.comFollowing close on the heals of the announced availability of AncestryDNA in Australia and New Zealand came news that AncestryDNA is now available in Canada. (See “Now Connect to Your DNA Cousins in Canada and Australia” on the Ancestry Blog.) The AncestryDNA database has grown to more than 850,000 people. (Family Tree DNA boasts 737,664 records as I write this, while 23andMe recently announced it has over a million.)

Bullet Ancestry.comAccording to a story on, AncestryDNA has done a study of birth rates and census data and calculated the average numbers of cousins Brits each have. A typical resident of Britain has five first cousins, 28 second cousins, 175 third, 1,570 fourth, 17,300 fifth, and 174,000 sixth cousins. That sums to an average of 193,000 living, close relatives. Ancestry’s Brad Argent points out that we probably come into contact with these relatives daily with no knowledge of it.

Only five first cousins? I have 30. I venture to say that trend continues up and down my family tree. How many living relatives do you think I have?

Bullet Ancestry.comIn a recent blog article, Ancestry explained a little more about Historical Insights. Historical Insights are items about historical events sprinkled throughout the LifeStory of a person in your Ancestry Member Tree. (See “ Releases Historical Insights.”) Historical Insights are like hints. They may be relevant, they may not. Click the Review button and select Keep or Ignore. Only two Insight hints appear on the timeline at once. You must keep or ignore them to see more.

Bullet Ancestry.comAndy Orin of the Lifehacker blog interviewed Crista Cowan to learn what it is like to be a professional genealogist. Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “As a genealogist, I spend the majority of my time researching, both online[,] and offline in libraries, archives and courthouses that hold documents yet to be digitized and placed online.”
  • “One misconception people often have about my job is that it is easy for anyone to get started in family history.”
  • “Family history is really a journey of discovery, not a sprint to see who has the most ancestors.”
  • “By attending a conference, it will quickly be apparent to you that you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Crista says that Ancestry has 16 billion historical records and is adding 2 million every day. Read a transcript of the interview, “Career Spotlight: What I Do as a Genealogist,” on the Lifehacker blog.

Bullet Ancestry.comHere’s an item that’s been sitting in my inbox since April, waiting for me to have time to write about it. Now, I only have time for a brief mention. Ancestry released an Apple Watch App. Doesn’t this look cool?

The Ancestry Apple Watch app

Okay, it doesn’t look all that practical to buy an Apple watch just to be notified about which ancestor was born today or to learn that someone just posted a photo of Uncle Harold. For a tiny bit more information, see “Family History on Your Wrist: Introducing Ancestry’s Apple Watch App” on the Ancestry Blog.

Bullet Ancestry.comI found something on the Ancestry website that made me smile. On your profile page you can specify your occupation, or at least your field. Given that most every professional genealogist in America has an Ancestry subscription, “Genealogist” and “Genealogy” may be the most prevalent occupation and field of all their subscribers.


Well, I think I’m just about caught up!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

FamilySearch News Ketchup for 1 July 2015

Ancestry Insider KetchupI have just two items of news about FamilySearch. Not much to catch up on…

FamilySearch tree bullet

FamilySearch has announced its free webinars for July. They include classes on Danish and Wales research, fuentes on FamilySearch(is that Spanish sources?), U.S. naturalizations, Boy Scout genealogy merit badge, and beginning LDS research. See the schedule in the FamilySearch wiki.

FamilySearch tree bulletFamilySearch released a new feature of its image viewer. It shows the indexed information in table format below the image. (Sound familiar, users?) It’s still pretty rough. It exists as a separate viewer from the regular image viewer. For more information, see “FamilySearch Combines Indexes and Record Images in a Single View” on the FamilySearch blog.